Starving and sick, covered in cuts and bruises, her hair thinning — the 3-year-old girl, according to doctors, could have died.
Interviews documented by police also allege the Springfield girl had been tied to a chair and thrown down stairs by her mother’s boyfriend. She was at times allegedly kept in a part of the house the other children called the “hole,” locked in a cage.
Her mom, according to documents, sometimes went to “the hole” to sneak her spinach and watermelon.
The allegations in the documents were used to OK a police search of a home at 1521 W. Florida St., Springfield, and are filed in Greene County Circuit Court.
But an attorney for the couple says the allegations aren’t true.
Kyle Wyatt, who represents Dustin Richard and Kaylah Hill, said he will argue during an upcoming child welfare hearing through the state Children’s Division that there was no abuse.
Child welfare authorities have been involved in the case for some time, but only after the 3-year-old’s maternal grandmother took her to the hospital in December did police begin to investigate.
No one has been criminally charged in this case, but welfare authorities have removed six children from the home. And, as the investigation nears its end, police say they plan to submit probable cause to prosecutors to push for criminal charges, possibly within a week.
Documents from a search warrant say Richard and Hill already had 15 open cases and an “extensive history” with the Children’s Division before the 3-year-old’s condition resulted in police being called to a Springfield emergency room. Documents say doctors diagnosed her with the conditions described above along with cellulitis and a disease called Kwashiorkor, caused by malnutrition.
Defending the couple in an interview with the News-Leader, attorney Wyatt said doctors never diagnosed the girl with Kwashiorkor, and that test results showed the girl was in the 75th percentile for weight. He said the cellulitis is not a sign of abuse.
It was the cellulitis that had the highest likelihood of causing death, doctors said, had it spread from her feet to her abdomen.
According to the documents, police were called to Mercy hospital on Dec. 26 when the girl arrived in the emergency room. An investigator described her as “scared and withdrawn.”
The girl was taken to the intensive care unit where she stayed until New Year’s Eve. She was placed in the state’s custody upon leaving the hospital.
The girl allegedly told investigators her mother’s boyfriend had tied her to a chair and thrown her down the stairs. According to documents, she said a mark on her forehead was from her mother hurting her.
She also, according to documents, described Richard tying her to a board.
The grandmother, Adele Hill, told police, according to documents, that the girl told her about Richard pushing her down the stairs in a chair. The girl had been “eating non-stop” since she’d been at the grandmother’s house the day before, the grandmother said.
Attempts by the News-Leader to reach Adele Hill failed.
Investigators got more information in later interviews from other children who had been with the girl in the Florida Street home. The allegations included:
• Richard hits the girl and hurts her.
• The girl and another child don’t get food “all the time” and not at all when they “get in trouble.”
• Hill sometimes gives the children food but they can’t tell Richard.
• Richard puts the girl in a cage in a place called “the hole,” and “she cries all night while she is in the cage.”
• The girl’s hair fell out when she brushed it.
Asked about the allegations of a “cage,” Wyatt said police searched the home and found no cage.
“They aren’t running a kennel for children,” he said.
Before the girl arrived at the hospital, police had not started an investigation but officials from the Children’s Division had already been trying to find out more about the parenting of Richard and Hill. Child welfare workers had interviewed a 7-year-old boy, who is legally blind and who lived in the home.
Search warrant documents say suspicions arose in November when school officials told the Children’s Division the boy would eat “three or four breakfasts and lunch at school” because he said he didn’t get food at his mother’s house.
He said he had stayed up late the night before to write sentences — why is not clear in documents — and that the boyfriend had “put a sock in his mouth because he was crying,” police say.
In December, he told officials he didn’t get food one weekend and that he only eats at school. He said Richard had hit him in the testicles with a cane, according to documents.
In January, the 7-year-old allegedly told investigators that his mother and Richard told him “to tell lies” when questioned at the Child Advocacy Center, where children are often interviewed during Springfield child abuse investigations.
Documents show at least four different Children’s Division investigators working on cases with the family since November.
When police interviewed Hill and Richard in January, they allegedly described illnesses the girl had been diagnosed with months before she was taken to the hospital, but said they didn’t know how she had injured her feet, why there were bruises on her throat, or why she was malnourished.
Richard allegedly told police the cellulitis may have been caused by the impetigo the girl was diagnosed with, but a doctor later told police that was not possible. Impetigo is a skin infection often caused by a sore or rash that is scratched repeatedly.
According to documents, the couple said the back injuries were from a time she fell while camping. The bruises on her forehead and lips were from a fall down the stairs. A burn on her ear was from “falling into a hot turkey fryer on Thanksgiving.”
Police say Richard denied tying the girl to a chair and pushing her down the stairs.
Wyatt said Richard and Hill have been cooperative through the process and voluntarily met with a police investigator.
Police served a search warrant at the couple’s home Feb. 4 in order to take photos for evidence. The search warrant affidavit says police were specifically looking for “items used in disciplining and corporal punishment” such as “weapons, cages and restraints.”
Police did take photos, according to the search warrant return, but the document does not specify what is captured in the photos or how many were taken.
Documents say the 3-year-old was put in the state’s custody following her release from the hospital. Five other children in the home were later removed and taken into the state’s custody, according to Perry Epperly, chief juvenile officer in Greene County.
Wyatt said his clients will be seeking to have the children returned during the upcoming Children’s Division hearing, Feb. 19.
It’s unclear if the 3-year-old has had a birthday since being taken to the hospital, as she is sometimes referred to as being 4.
The document lists eight children who were living in the home, between the ages of less than a year and 10 years old. Wyatt said two of those children are not full-time residents of the home, so they were not taken into custody with the other six.